Brothers Tim and Wes Gilbert, who had electric golf cars from the beginning of their partnership as owners of WindStone Golf Club, have experienced nothing but enjoyment after converting their fleet.
When brothers Tim and Wes Gilbert were growing up together in the Chattanooga, Tenn., area, they spent every summer at their local golf course. They each had lockers where they stored their summertime essentials—golf clubs, bathing suit, and fishing rod.
“We were golf-course kids. We would go there in the morning and come home at night,” recalls Tim.
And that hasn’t changed. Now that they are grown, the brothers still spend almost all of their waking moments together on a course. They have worked side-by-side in the golf course business for 20 years, and since 1996 have shared a 50-50 ownership of WindStone Golf Club in Ringgold, Ga., near Chattanooga. As General Manager, Tim oversees clubhouse operations, while Wes (right) takes care of the grounds as Golf Course Superintendent.
In all their time together on the golf course, one constant for the Gilbert brothers was always electric golf cars. This past December, however, the co-owners made a major change, when WindStone converted its 66-car fleet from electric to Sandstone Metallic Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) gas cars made by the Yamaha Golf-Car Company.
Converting to the EFI gas fleet was a major step for the Gilberts, and one they did not take lightly. “It was a very big decision for Wes and I do this,” reveals Tim. “Gas golf cars had always had a stigma about them.”
Wes Gilbert admits he was especially nervous about the added noise factor that gas cars might bring to WindStone, but agreed to “weigh out the positives and negatives” with Tim. That analysis by the self-described “bottom-line guys” revealed a number of compelling reasons to make the switch.
Features on the EFI fleet that include a wet braking system and the fact that the cars have no choke were appealing, Tim notes. In addition, the WindStone partners saw the advantages that would come from not having to replace batteries every two years for its fleet, at a total cost of $45,000.
“Gas and battery prices are about equal,” notes Tim. “But to be able to spread that $45,000 out over two years, instead of taking one big hit, was a big factor.”
He also felt that the EFI gas cars would offer peace of mind that the electric cars never did. “They won’t break down,” Tim reports. “As long as they have gas in them, they’re going to go. They’re a lot more dependable.”
The Gilberts, who always purchase their vehicles and keep them for about six or seven years, also liked the projections they developed for the end of the fleet’s lifecycle. “On the back end is where we hope to find our savings,” Tim explains. “The resale value of a gas car compared to the resale value of an electric car is $700 to $900 more.”
In addition, because Wes always tries to use environmentally safe products at WindStone, which covers almost 500 acres of gently rolling countryside on the Georgia-Tennessee state line, the fleet’s eco-friendly features offered special appeal. (According to Yamaha, the EFI model is the industry’s “greenest” gas car with the smallest carbon footprint, through minimal exhaust emissions, better gas mileage and reduced electric bills.)
Getting Out in Front
After Yamaha introduced EFI as a standard feature for its fleet golf cars in November 2013, WindStone was one of the first properties to convert. (In addition to the 66 gas cars, the property also purchased a deluxe beverage unit.) And the Gilbert brothers say they had no reservations about being a pioneering property for the EFI technology.
Yamaha, which features EFI in all of its products, including motorcycles, Wave Runners, outboard motors and ATVs, launched the EFI feature in the private golf car market a year before it became available in its fleet cars.
“Everything on that golf car has been out there for years, except the engine,” says Tim. “And Yamaha has always been known for good engines and good fuel injection.”
Brooks West, PGA, a District Sales Manager for Yamaha Golf-Car Company, says he met with the Gilberts for six weeks before he brought up the EFI models when they visited the company’s Newnan, Ga., factory in August 2013.
“Wes was a little more skeptical, but I like that,” West says. “It shows that they care, because [purchasing] golf cars is a big decision. I’d rather have someone who’s a little nervous at first and extremely satisfied after.”
To check out the new models, Wes reports, “We went to the factory and drove some. We met with engineers, and they answered any questions we had. We got to see what goes into making one.”
WindStone also had Yamaha regular gas, EFI, and electric demos on the property for three months before the Gilberts selected the EFI cars. “We got feedback from the members. We let them drive them, and we asked them what they liked best,” says Tim.
Comfort was another deciding factor, because Yamaha has a higher roof and wider seat than other models. “The Yamaha car is roomier inside. The dash features were a selling point, and the suspension is great,” notes Wes.
Trust and Credibility
Wes Gilbert has also seen positive changes in maintenance operations since WindStone converted to the EFI fleet. The only maintenance requirement for the EFI golf cars is an annual change of air filter, oil, and spark plug, he reports. “We don’t have to water batteries once a month, and the golf cars get 35 miles to a gallon,” he says. “That’s a big advantage. Our fuel costs have gone up, but our labor has gone down.”
With the electric cars, he reveals, two men spent four or five hours watering the batteries once a month. But time isn’t the only savings the golf course has experienced; Wes says the electric bill has come down as well.
“It’s nice to not have a cart break down on the course. When batteries go bad, they go bad,” Wes adds. “We would get plenty of feedback about that, and none of it was positive.”
In addition, notes Yamaha’s West, “The EFI is better for certain climates. Anywhere that has any sort of cold temperatures, you will definitely see a difference with EFI.
“The brothers are owner-operators who know every corner of their business, and I’m pleased that they were my first EFI customers,” West adds. “They are passionate about the golf business, and they just have a lot of credibility. It’s nice to have somebody who’s willing to take time for reference calls and to give open, honest feedback. I appreciate their willingness to go with a new product and trust the Yamaha brand.”
Trust in each other played a big part in the Gilberts’ decision as well. “I’m glad Tim wanted to do it,” Wes says, “because he was right.”